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NARRATOR: "A night of restlessness has left me feeling fairly groggy this morning. The events of the previous day keep intruding upon my mind. The memory of how Emi felt against me. The memory of our wrestling match. And most bothersome, the memory of her nightmare. She was in so much pain. I can't stop wondering what it must be like for her to wake up with nobody there."

NARRATOR: "The shower shocks me awake with hot water. Awake, but still worried. What will happen today? Will things just go back to normal? End of the episode, back to the status quo? There was a connection yesterday. Something that nearly pushed us past the boundaries of normal friendship. Would that have been so bad? My mind goes back to the look in Emi's eyes after our pillowfight. It almost seemed like she was daring me to go on. Almost. But I can't know for sure."

NARRATOR: "Anyway, the track captain's probably first in her affections. But even as I say that, my mind is already snorting derisively. I'm just looking for an excuse. A reason for everything to go wrong. A reason to not try. It's not as if I've even seen the two of them together outside of track practice. And clearly he's never visited. Emi said as much herself. If they were close, surely he'd visit. I'm such a wuss. I ought to just go for it anyway, damn the consequences. That's what Emi would do, I think. Hell, I know that's what she'd do. Which is partially why I'm convinced there's no interest on her end."

NARRATOR: "She hasn't acted either. Maybe because of this track captain. It's possible she's got a bit of an unrequited crush thing going on. But who would be able to clarify their relationship? It sure as hell can't be Emi. She'd probably just laugh and ask why I wanted to know... and I'm not ready to answer that yet. Rin... Rin would probably just give me some cryptic answer or something. And then with my luck, she'd just ask Emi, who would ask me why I wanted to know, and I've already covered that problem. I wonder... Could I get away with asking the nurse?"

NARRATOR: "He seems pretty protective of Emi. I'm sure he'd know if something was up... And he owes me for not letting Emi know he forgot to tell me about her being ill, so he'll keep quiet. What if he asks me why I want to know, though? I can shake him off. Just say I'm curious as a friend. He'll buy that, won't he? Of course! That's settled, then. After the run, I'll talk to him while Emi's waiting outside the office."

NARRATOR: "There's no sign of Emi when I arrive at the track. Is she still too ill? I decide to give her ten minutes. I'm a little early, and she was ill yesterday, so if she takes a while to show up it shouldn't be surprising. Still, I'd hate to just waste my time, so I occupy myself by stretching and pacing back and forth anxiously. What if I went too far yesterday? What if she doesn't come because she's embarrassed? What if..."

EMI: "You're early again, Hisao! I'm impressed!"

NARRATOR: "Just like that, I feel some of the tension leaving my body. Emi seems to be bright and cheerful as usual, with no sign that she even was ill the other day, much less had a less-than-restful sleep. Still, I have to ask."

HISAO: "Sleep well last night?"

NARRATOR: "It's just a throwaway question. Small talk. The sort of thing people ask someone they bump into in the cafe while getting their morning coffee. But not for us. At least, not for me. I don't know if Emi realizes that I'm actually concerned about how well she slept last night, but the question does give her pause. After a short moment of what seems like her genuinely pondering this, she nods."

EMI: "Yep! Sure did!"

NARRATOR: "Was it because of me? Did I actually help? Or are you just saying that to get me to stop asking questions?"

HISAO: "Good to hear."

NARRATOR: "Emi grins and begins warming up."

EMI: "So, ready to begin?"

HISAO: "Pfft, am I ready? Of course I'm ready! I was born ready!"

NARRATOR: "Emi laughs at my bravado, and we take off running. I keep a steady pace the whole time, breathing steadily. I still feel dead at the end, but at least I don't gasp like a fish out of water now. Emi is positively beaming after the run today."

EMI: "Nice job, Hisao! You're improving! You'll be half as fast as me in no time!"

NARRATOR: "This last line is delivered with a teasing grin that I've grown all too used to."

HISAO: "Oh, how exciting."

NARRATOR: "Emi begins to run her sprints while I take a cool-down lap. She's really pushing herself today. By the time I'm done with my lap, she's laying across one of the bleachers, looking exhausted."

HISAO: "Goodness, not pushing it a little too much today, are you? You did just have a cold, you'll recall."

NARRATOR: "Emi gives an annoyed snort and sits up."

EMI: "Bah! I'm just trying to make up for lost time, that's all. I went twice as hard today, you know. A good run always gets the kinks out, you know. Clears the mind, too."

HISAO: "Oh?"

NARRATOR: "Emi nods vigorously."

EMI: "Yep! It's a great outlet for that sort of thing."

NARRATOR: "She does not explain further, and I don't ask. I suspect I know the real reason she went so hard today. Being sick had nothing to do with it. Something's bothering her. Maybe the nightmare. Maybe something else. But it's not my place to pry. She'd tell me if she wanted me to know."

HISAO: "I'm sure that comes in handy."

EMI: "You have no idea."

NARRATOR: "The sincerity in her voice confirms my suspicion. The only problem is... Even though I know she'd tell me if she wanted me to know, I still want to know."

HISAO: "Something on your mind, then?"

NARRATOR: "Emi doesn't seem surprised by my question. Instead, she shrugs."

EMI: "Nah, it's nothing worth getting worried about."

NARRATOR: "She seems as if she's trying to convince herself as much as she's convincing me. I open my mouth to ask if yesterday is responsible for her current state of mind, but think better of it. Too much risk of her taking the question the wrong way. Besides, I'm not even sure myself what to think about yesterday. Really I can only get about as far as how it felt to have Emi sleeping next to me before my brain shuts down. Having her before me now, covered in sweat and looking wryly at me, she's making it difficult to think."

HISAO: "Yeah, I hear you."

EMI: "We'd better hurry to see the nurse. We're running short on time."

HISAO: "Aren't we always?"

NARRATOR: "Emi laughs at this, a dry chuckle that seems most un-Emi-like."

EMI: "Too true."

NARRATOR: "For a brief moment, she looks old, worn down by some old hurt. But just like yesterday I can almost see her shouldering the burden and straightening up slightly. And then she's back to being Emi again."

EMI: "Come on then Hisao. Race ya!"

NARRATOR: "With a sudden smile, she darts off."

HISAO: "Hey! No fair!"

NARRATOR: "I take off after her, knowing I won't catch her but not caring. Even if there's no chance of catching her, I'll still run after her. Emi's waiting for me at the door as I arrive."

EMI: "Well well, look who's finally shown up!"

HISAO: "Yeah, yeah. Enjoy your victory while you can."

NARRATOR: "Emi grins as the nurse pokes his head out of the door."

NURSE: "Well, there you are. Come on in, Hisao."

NARRATOR: "In what has become a familiar routine by now, he checks my blood pressure and my heart rate."

NURSE: "A bit fast today, isn't it?"

HISAO: "Yeah, I kind of raced Emi here."

NARRATOR: "The nurse laughs."

NURSE: "That's never a good idea!"

NARRATOR: "He leans in to whisper to me in a conspiratory manner."

NURSE: "I don't know if you've heard... but Emi's a bit of a track star."

NARRATOR: "I reel back in mock surprise."

HISAO: "Really? She never mentioned it before!"

NARRATOR: "The two of us share a laugh."

NURSE: "Did she do okay today? Cold seemed to bother her?"

HISAO: "Why don't you ask her?"

NARRATOR: "He rolls his eyes in exasperation."

NURSE: "Of course I'm going to ask her too, but she'll tell me that she didn't have any problems, regardless of whether or not she did. So I'm asking you, because you're her friend and would probably tell me if she had trouble today."

NARRATOR: "When he puts it that way, it makes a lot more sense."

HISAO: "She seemed pretty good today, if a little more tired than usual. She was already feeling better when I dropped by yesterday, so I'm not that surprised."

NARRATOR: "The nurse nods, though I notice he tenses slightly when I mention yesterday's visit."

NURSE: "Well, that's good to hear. I figured it was just a 24-hour thing. Emi tends to recover quickly from colds and the like."

HISAO: "Hey, speaking of Emi... Are she and the track captain...? Well, you know."

NARRATOR: "A look of suspicion crosses his face."

NURSE: "Why do you ask?"

HISAO: "Well, it's just that they seem kind of close, and I was just curious, you know? And I'd never ask her, because that would be kind of embarrassing."

NARRATOR: "So far, so good. Now to really sell it."

HISAO: "Besides, I think they'd make a cute couple."

NARRATOR: "The nurse laughs."

NURSE: "Well, I don't suppose you're the first to think that. But I think I can say with some certainty that the two of them will never do anything like that."

HISAO: "Certainty?"

NURSE: "Yep. Not that I could tell you, of course. Confidentiality and all that."

HISAO: "Yeah right, you just like holding a secret over my head."

NURSE: "That too. Right. Get out of here. I'm a busy man, you know."

NARRATOR: "I roll my eyes at his last statement and head out the door, motioning to Emi to go in. The whole time, I'm trying to keep from doing a celebratory dance. The two of them will never do anything like that. That's precisely the sort of thing I wanted to hear. I'm half-tempted to make some sort of a move on Emi right now, but I think the nurse would probably disapprove."

NARRATOR: "Besides, I still don't know exactly how Emi feels about me. I mean it's obvious that she cares about me as a friend, but something more than that? I can't be certain. Even so, I can't help but feel hopeful. I just need to figure out a good time to tell Emi exactly how I feel. That puzzle should keep me occupied for the rest of the day, at least."

Next Scene: The (Real) Beginning

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